Considering the dramatic twists and turns of jazz trumpeter, composer and arranger Shunzo Ohno's life, it is little wonder that the producers of Japanese television show "Unbelievable" chose him as a subject. He has reached exhilarating heights, experienced unexpected lows and overcoming unbelievable odds, risen again to surpass even his own successes.
Born in Gifu, Japan, Shunzo began his musical training at age 13 on the trombone - the only instrument available in his school. He didn't begin playing the trumpet until age 17, partly inspired by the film "Boy with Trumpet." By age 19, Shunzo was the leading jazz trumpeter in Japan.
Already working as an accomplished composer and arranger in Japan, Shunzo's career hit high gear when he met the renowned bandleader Art Blakey. He toured with Blakey throughout the United States and settled in New York City in 1974 at Blakey's suggestion. During this period, Shunzo maintained a close friendship and working relationship with the bandleader while also working with Norman Connors, Roy Haynes and the Hip Ensemble while leading his own group. His original composition "Bubbles" was featured on Connor's million-selling recording, You Are My Starship, and became a hit single, attaining gold status. Today, audiences continue to request this favorite tune.
The compelling Latin energy in Shunzo's playing can be linked to his tenure with the celebrated Machito and his Afro-Cuban Orchestra, with whom he toured Europe and South America. During his three-and-a-half years with Machito, Shunzo recorded the Grammy Award-winning recording Machito and His Salsa Big Band (1983), which featured his dazzling solos.
Following his years with Machito's band, Shunzo joined one of his most influential inspirations, master arranger and composer Gil Evans, becoming a key contributor on tours, club dates, and recordings, including the 1988 Grammy Award-winning Live at Sweet Basil's. Shunzo made a total of four recordings with Evans, who remained a lifelong mentor to him.
In 1985, Shunzo returned to Japan with Super Sounds, a group that included jazz legends Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Larry Coryell. He performed with Super Sounds for two years, conducting separate tours with his own group and giving numerous sold-out performances. Later, in addition to recording with his mentors Shorter and Hancock, Shunzo joined Buster Williams' group, notably, appearing at the 1st International Jazz Festival in Moscow and continued to tour with his own band.
In between these impressive collaborations and projects, Shunzo also guested on recordings by David Byrne (Rei Momo), David Matthews (Digital Love) and Onaje Allan Gumbs (Dare to Dream).
In 1988, he was involved in a serious automobile accident, in which his teeth and lips were permanently damaged. Undeterred by the painful recovery process, Shunzo strengthened his resolve to find a new approach to his music and continue playing.
He returned to recording and touring, renewed by such meaningful performances as his appearance in the San Francisco Jazz Festival with Wayne Shorter in a tribute honoring the sax great.
Adversity struck Shunzo again in 1996, when he was diagnosed with life-threatening throat cancer. For three years, he underwent radical treatments to control the disease and embarked on the difficult road to recovery. His refusal to allow personal struggles and seemingly insurmountable circumstances to defeat him led Shunzo to develop his talent beyond expectations and serve as an inspiration to others. He has never stopped moving in that direction.
Shunzo has 13 recordings under his name, showcasing his skills as a trumpeter, bandleader, arranger and composer. His CD, Poetry of Japan (1999) was a result of his search for a pure voice with the traditional melodies of Japan. His latest recording, Home (2005), features an original composition commissioned for the acclaimed movie, "Fireflies, River of Lights" and "L'Historia de un Amore," dedicated to his beloved friends Pascual and Angela Olivera.
Among his accolades, The Universal Jazz Coalition presented Shunzo with the first Asian American Jazz Connection Music Award for his achievements in setting new standards. His fascinating life is the subject of a biography, "Trumpet of Hope" (1st edition in 2000, now in multiple editions, Ushio publisher) and a documentary, "Trumpet of Glory", released in October 1999. Fuji Television featured his story on the primetime show "Unbelievable."
Shunzo maintains a busy recording and touring schedule, using his formidable talent to influence the human heart everywhere.